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Who's Who in the Lab: Types of Laboratory Professionals

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Summary Table

The following table summarizes the key positions in the lab, the education required for the position, and the responsibilities of the position.

Roles & Responsibilities in the Lab

PositionEducation & trainingresponsibilities
Laboratory Director

Doctoral degree (e.g., MD or PhD); sometimes a medical laboratory scientist

Board certification recommended

Directs and manages all lab operations and ensures quality patient care; Interprets test results, with consulting pathologist
Technical Supervisor Doctoral degree (e.g., MD or PhD); may be Master's or bachelor's degree with experience

Board certification recommended

May be the same person as the lab director
Provides oversight of technical and scientific functions of the lab
General Supervisor May be the same person as the lab director or technical supervisor

Depending on lab and experience, MLS/MT or MLT may qualify
Provides oversight of day-to-day functions of the lab
Medical Laboratory Scientist (MLS) or Medical Technologist (MT) Bachelor degree in clinical/medical laboratory science or life sciences and completion of accredited MLS/MT program

Licensure/certification may be required by employers
Performs routine tests;develops new test methods under supervision; performs quality control tests; becomes group or team leader; supervises, teaches, delegates
Medical Laboratory Technician (MLT) Associate degree and completion of accredited MLT or certificate program

Licensure/certification may be required by employers
Performs routine tests and quality control tests under supervision on MLS/MT
Specialized Fields
Pathology Assistant Master's degree and board certification Gross examination and dissection of tissue samples sent to anatomic pathology lab; assist with autopsies
Cytogeneticist Doctoral degree (e.g., MD or PhD) and board certification Performs cytogenetic analyses to diagnose chromosomal abnormalities in human genetic diseases
Cytogenetic Technologist Bachelor degree (B.A. or B.S) in the sciences or clinical/medical laboratory science

CG certification recommended
Prepares biological specimens for cell culture and microscopic analyses as part of cytogenetic studies; assists the cytogeneticist
Cytotechnologist (CT) Bachelor degree and completion of accredited CT program Examines human cells under microscope for signs of pathology (e.g., Pap smears for signs of cancer); with appropriate experience, may supervise a cytology laboratory
Histotechnologist (HTL) or Histologist Bachelor degree and completion of accredited HTL program Prepares tissue samples for microscopic examination by pathologist and performs complex procedures; can supervise histologic technicians and, with appropriate experience, may supervise histology laboratory
Histologic technician (HT) High school degree and completion of accredited histology program Prepares sections of body tissues for microscopic examination by pathologist, processes tissue biopsies, assists histotechnologists
Phlebotomist (PBT) High school degree and training or work experience Collects blood samples from patients for lab tests

* Compiled from "Careers in Medical Laboratory Technology," published by the American Society for Clinical Pathology; "Clinical Chemistry: Partnerships in Healthcare" by the American Association for Clinical Chemistry; the Association of Genetic Technologists; and Laboratory General: CAP Checklist 1 (April 1998). The specific name for many of these positions varies by location.

Each laboratory must have on staff a sufficient number of personnel who meet the qualification requirements to perform the functions needed for the volume and complexity of testing performed at that lab. For this reason, the make-up of each lab differs in terms of the number and type of personnel that are on staff. Other people who might work in the laboratory include assistants, students in training, medical residents, pathology residents, and research fellows. However, the people holding the positions described above are the key people who will be handling your sample, performing the tests, and ensuring that the results they provide to your doctor are accurate, reliable, and timely. You may never meet them, but they are a crucial part of the health care team that cares for your health.

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